The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-1 to start 2022 and in possession of first place in the NFC South, which is an objectively good start to a season, particularly one that featured the NFL's most difficult strength of schedule through the first four weeks. The team's injury-riddled offense has yet to find a groove but the defense has been very impressive, particularly in the second halves of those first three games. After three weeks, Tampa Bay leads the NFL in scoring defense, having allowed an average of 9.0 points per outing.
Since that is the best statistic the Buccaneers have going for them right now, I decided to take a closer look at it, and what it might mean historically. Specifically, I wanted to know how common it is for a team to have that low of a points-against total after three games, and whether teams that did this were able to sustain those fast starts.
You can't do a study like this using the entirety of NFL history, or at least you can't do it without losing your sanity, because you'll be spending a lot of time looking at the 1921 Akron Pros and the 1926 Duluth Eskimos. It's safe to say the game has changed dramatically since those leather-helmeted days, and that it's a lot harder to field a single-digit scoring defense in the modern NFL than it was during the Great Depression.
So I picked a relatively arbitrary time range of the last 40 seasons, partially because the statistical service I was using only had team rankings going back through 1981. So we're looking at the 1982-2021 seasons, which is still a pretty darn good sample size of teams.
As it turns out, the Buccaneers are the 29th team in those 40 seasons to get out of its first three games with an average points allowed of 9.0 per contest or fewer. That's relatively close to one per season, and indeed the 2021 Denver Broncos are on the list, having allowed 8.7 points per game through their first three outings. And the Buccaneers are the only team on the list this year. Nobody did it in 2020 but the Patriots had an average of 5.7 points allowed per game through three weeks in 2019. Randomly, the season in this range with the most such examples was 2006, in which the Chargers, Ravens and Bears all qualified. By the way, the Buccaneers also made this list in 2000 and 2003 (but not 2002, when they won the Super Bowl, thanks to an opening-game 26-20 loss to the Saints).
So, when it was all said and done, did these teams generally continue to be stingy on the scoreboard or did their hot starts more often fade away? Well, they did pretty good!
Of those previous 28 teams to allow nine or fewer points per game through three weeks, 17 finished the season with a top-five scoring defense, including five that came in number one. Most recently, those 2019 Patriots who allowed 5.7 points per contest through three weeks finished in first place at the end of the season at 14.1 per game. The '00 and '03 Bucs, by the way, ended up in seventh and fourth place, respectively.
Another three teams finished between ninth and 14th in the rankings. Only the 2002 Chargers, 2003 Colts and 2004 Seahawks slipped into the 20s in the rankings, and it's weird to me that those happened in three consecutive rankings.
No team could maintain that incredibly torrid three-game pace, of course. The 1996 Green Bay Packers did the best, allowing 8.7 points per game through the first three weeks and finishing the season at 13.0. Those '19 Patriots I've mentioned twice and the 2000 Miami Dolphins both finished at 14.1 points allowed per game, while the 2013 Seahawks came in at 14.4.
So, yeah, these kinds of starts are not generally fluky things. History suggests the Buccaneers have a good shot at remaining one of the best scoring defenses in the NFL this year.
Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In terms of stats how good is Camarda across the league? Seems like he has a great hang time.
- @bucsuk (via Instagram)
Hey, I'm glad you asked! If you haven't noticed, I'm kind of a big stats guy. Of course, to be honest, this wouldn't be terribly hard to look up on your own, but I don't mind doing the heavy lifting here.
First, the most basic stats, but I will caution you that, 1) three games is a very small sample size that doesn't mean very much and, 2) There are A LOT of NFL punters off to very nice starts. Currently, Bucs rookie punter Jake Camarda has a gross punting average of 45.2 yards and a net average of 42.7 yards. Those two numbers are tied for 25th and 13th in the league, respectively, so far. It's safe to say that the small difference between Camarda's gross and net averages are indicative of great hang time.
But we can get those specific numbers, too. According to Statspass, Camarda has an average hang time so far of 4.51 seconds on his punts, which ranks 11th in the NFL. He has also forced opposing return men to call for fair catches seven times, which is tied with the Saints' Blake Gillikin for the most in the NFL. That's come on 15 total punts, so nearly half of them have been fair caught, while another two went out of bounds and one was downed by the cover team.
These numbers are encouraging, especially after the Bucs had some of the worst punting numbers in the league last year, but I don't think they quite do Camarda justice at this point. Or rather, they don't accurately depict how strong of a leg he has put on display. Camarda has already blasted two punts that went over 60 yards and another two that traveled between 50 and 59 yards, but he's also had three go 39 yards or fewer. The average distance of his four punts of 50-plus yards is 58.8. Personally, I've seen enough of those kicks already to believe that he is going to keep booming them all season.
Will Sean Murphy Bunting get more playing time as the season progresses?
- @joshbasso (via Instagram)
Almost assuredly, but when and how much is a little harder to predict.
Head Coach Todd Bowles has very directly stated on several occasions since Jamel Dean won the competition for the starting corner spot opposite Carlton Davis that all three of those cornerbacks would see plenty of playing time this season. I don't think Bowles is merely paying lip service to the situation in order to keep Murphy-Bunting motivated. I think it's a nod to the reality of the NFL, in which it's going to be rare for two starting cornerbacks to each play all 17 games. The Buccaneers certainly have vivid memories of a cornerback carousel last season when it seemed like a player was getting knocked out with an injury every single week. That included all three of Murphy-Bunting, Davis and Dean. Having a player as talented and with as much experience as Murphy-Bunting in a reserve role is a very nice problem to have, though all three of those guys obviously wants to be playing all the time.
I don't really like bringing up the injury specter in relation to any specific players, so I hope the Buccaneers won't actually need to plumb their depth at the cornerback position for those reasons. I'm sure Murphy-Bunting is rooting for Davis and Dean to avoid injury all year. So could SMB get on the field on defense in other ways? Definitely. Bowles has said the Buccaneers have some personnel packages that utilize their reserve DBs, and indeed we've seen a couple instances of fourth safety Keanu Neal getting into the action. After the season-opening win in Dallas, Bowles mentioned these other packages but said the Buccaneers simply didn't get into a situation to utilize them.
And I guess that's where we are at the moment. Through three games the Bucs have a clear secondary deployment they are rolling with both in base and in sub packages. Safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Mike Edwards along with cornerbacks Davis and Dean have all played 100% of the team's defensive snaps so far. Logan Ryan is the fifth man in, with Winfield dropping into the slot in five-DB packages. Ryan, who replaces Winfield at safety, has played 71% of the snaps. Murphy-Bunting has not yet played on defense. And, the obvious point here is that what the Buccaneers are doing is working. The Buccaneers have five interceptions already and, as I spent a lot of time discussing at the top of this post, are allowing a league-low 9.0 points per game. I do believe Sean Murphy-Bunting's time is coming, but at this very moment the Bucs are understandably not trying to fix what isn't broken.
Do you see Brady running the ball more?
- @rubies_rhinestones24 (via Instragram)
Not if he can help it.
I assume this question is prompted by the stunning 18-yard journey into unexplored territory that Tom Brady went on late in the third quarter of Sunday's loss to the Packers. On the play, Brady neatly ducked under an oncoming defender to avoid a sack and then noticed that there was an inviting expanse of unoccupied green in front of him and took off. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Brady hit a top speed of 15.69 miles per hour on that run which is…not bad?! The fastest Buc on that play was wideout Kaylon Geiger, who hit 17.53 miles per hour.
So, after getting up to around the speed limit in an elementary school zone is Brady eager to start gashing defenses with his scrambles. Uh, no, I don't think so. Don't take it from me, take it from the man himself. After Sunday's game he said with a grin:
"I saw a lot of open green grass and no Packers. I could turn a 40-yard gain into 18 better than anyone in the NFL. Unfortunately, I slid, I broke my knee brace and I had to get it on the sideline but if I'm running it, it's usually not a good thing so I'll give it to the guys who run with it."
For the record, that run was erased by a holding penalty and Brady finished the game with one carry for a loss of one yard. That, of course, was a kneel-down to end the first half. On the season, Brady has six carries for four yards, all kneel-downs (lots of kneel-downs is a good thing). In his career, which has so far spanned 321 regular-season games (an incredible number in and of itself), Brady has rushed for 1,120 yards. That amounts to 3.5 rushing yards per game and 1.7 yards per tote.
No, Tom Brady is not looking to run the ball more often.
Who will most likely be back for week four? Godwin, Jones, Evans?
- @yngswag1787 (via Instagram)
Well, the most likely receiver to return is Mike Evans, since he wasn't sidelined by an injury in Week Three. Rather, Evans was serving a one-game suspension handed down by the NFL for his part in an onfield altercation between Bucs and Saints players in New Orleans in Week Two. Whether or not that suspension was just – Evans appealed it but was denied – it did produce the side benefit of giving him time to rest the injured calf that had him listed as questionable in Week Two. Evans is now back with the team and it would be very surprising if he's not good to go on Sunday.
After that, I'd have to go with Julio Jones, simply because Todd Bowles said this about the veteran wideout on Sunday after the game against the Packers:
"I just know he could have played, [but] we held him out. We want to make sure he's healthy and he'll probably be back out there next week."
Now, "back out there" may mean "back out there in practice," which would be a good start but doesn't necessarily mean that Jones is going to be ready to play a game on Sunday. Jones only got in a little work last week while recovering from a knee injury suffered in Week One. Still, that seems like a safer bet to me than Chris Godwin, who has not practiced at all since sustaining a hamstring injury in Week One. Personally, I'd be pretty happy if Godwin simply started practicing again in some manner this week, whether or not it means an immediate return on Sunday. The Buccaneers' passing attack clearly needs its top performers, and sooner rather than later.
Will the game be played in Miami if Tampa is unable to hold the game ?
- @mkmmitch (via Instagram)
No, it will not. The Buccaneers are practicing in Miami at the Dolphins' facility this week but there are no plans to hold Sunday's game at (/checks the internet because the name of the venue has changed dozens of times) Hard Rock Stadium. If the Buccaneers have to play their game away from Tampa they are not going to stay in state and draw resources away from what could be relief efforts to areas hit hard by Hurricane Ian.
Neither the NFL nor the Buccaneers have made any official statements about contingency plans for Sunday's game, and obviously everyone is hoping that it is played at Raymond James Stadium as planned. This will depend, of course, on how hard Ian hits the area and whether or not the Stadium is needed as part of the emergency relief. The NFL has a "disaster plan" in place for every single game on the schedule, including possible venues to move them to if the original stadium is unavailable for any reason. Like I said, there is nothing official on record as of Thursday morning, but there are multiple reports that the disaster plan for this game is the Minnesota Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings are playing in London this weekend against the New Orleans Saints, so the venue is available. What the logistics would be of making such a move have not been reported at this point.